It was a year after Lisa Price-Labenski of Jamesburg finished treatment for breast cancer. She was out running errands and finally feeling good again. As the 56-year-old special education teacher lifted a case of water into her car, she noticed that her fingers looked plump.
As a cancer survivor, she knew she was at risk for developing lymphedema, an accumulation of lymphatic fluid that develops when the lymphatic system is damaged from surgery or radiation therapy. This fluid buildup causes swelling in the arms, legs, trunk, head, neck, fingers, and toes. People with lymphedema may experience discomfort and achiness and, in severe cases, restricted movement. If left unchecked, it can cause a hardening or thickening of the skin and may lead to recurring infections.
While lymphedema is not life-threatening, it is a chronic, lifelong condition that patients must continuously manage with proper care. Treatment includes manual lymph drainage, multilayer bandaging techniques to assist with limb compression, and education on skin care and exercise programs.
Newer lymphedema patients receive treatment three to four times a week, but Lisa goes less often because she is at a maintenance stage. Every other week, she meets with Amanda Laraus, PT, certified lymphedema physical therapist, at the CentraState Medical Office at Monroe. During their sessions, Laraus measures Lisa’s arms and reviews her compression garments and self-care schedule. She provides manual lymph drainage using the Vodder technique, which enhances fluid movement throughout the body.
Laraus also helps Lisa with exercises to improve mobility in one arm that was affected by breast reconstruction. At home, Lisa manages her own care by wearing nighttime and daytime compression garments. She uses a home compression pump to help relieve swelling, and she follows directed guidelines for skin care, diet, and exercise.
“It’s a commitment that may seem overwhelming at first, but with help patients learn to make it part of their lifestyle,” Laraus says.
While Lisa was disheartened to learn she developed lymphedema after surviving cancer, she has embraced her “new normal,” choosing compression sleeves with funky and bright patterns.
“With Amanda’s help and a positive attitude, lymphedema can’t slow me down,” Lisa says.